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Podcast: First Time Home Buyer

first time home buyer
Podcast: First Time Home Buyer
For this podcast I sat down with Walt Wollet, mortgage loan officer with Pacific Residential where we discussed his experience as a first time home buyer.  Learn about the home buying process from the perspective of a mortgage lender and how handled the process and what things he might have changed to make it even better. You can connect with Walt Wollet on LinkedIn, Facebook.
You can connect with me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram. About the author: The above Podcast “Podcast: First Time Home Buyer” was provided by Paul Sian. Paul can be reached at paul@CinciNKYRealEstate.com or by phone at 513-560-8002. With over 10+ years experience, if you’re thinking of selling or buying, I would love to share my marketing knowledge and expertise.
I work in the following Greater Cincinnati, OH and Northern KY areas: Alexandria, Amberly, Amelia, Anderson Township, Cincinnati, Batavia, Blue Ash, Covington, Edgewood, Florence, Fort Mitchell, Fort Thomas, Hebron, Hyde Park, Indian Hill, Kenwood, Madeira, Mariemont, Milford, Montgomery, Mt. Adams, Mt. Washington, Newport, Newtown, Norwood, Taylor Mill, Terrace Park, Union Township, and Villa Hills.
Transcript:
[00:00:09] Paul Sian: Hello, everybody. This is Paul Sian, Realtor with United Real Estate license in the state of Ohio and Kentucky. And with me today is a returning guest, Walt Wallet with 5th 3rd Bank. He was with a different lender in the past, and now he’s with 5th. 3rd. We’ll talk Are you doing today?
[00:00:24] Walt Wollet: I am fantastic today, Paul. We’re out here at the on my new piece of property that you helped me acquire and I’m excited. Toe do a podcast. It’s been a while.
[00:00:36] Paul Sian: Yeah, that’s that’s one of the reasons to that we decided to do this. Podcast is hey, your lender. I’m the You know, I’ve been through the process of myself of buying my own house as a real real estate agent, so I know how it is. So let’s we want to get the perspective of a mortgage lender, you know, buying the house. So I guess let’s just start from the very beginning. What’s what’s the first step that anybody has to do If they’re they’re interested in buying a house, they skip, you know, leave out the real estate agent. They know they want to buy a house, and they’re gonna talk to a lender at 5th, 3rd, and that happens to be you. So what’s their What’s their first step?
[00:01:10] Walt Wollet: So for my first step, and we talked a little bit before this about just being an active consumer, and we’ll get more into that. But it really it really what I what I would tell people is that you need to do an honest debt analysis, and you honestly need to look at budgeting eso. You need thio when you’re when you’re buying a place you need, you need to take in all what all those costs are, you know? So what are the costs that you know you have to pay every month, is there, You know, do you have a $40 credit card bill you pay every month? Your cars? You know, your auto loans, whatever, whatever you pay every month and you need you need to analyze that. Um, just just so that way you’re not wasting your time, right? So it’s like the first thing I would do is get is get pre qualified or talk to a lender, you know, And I’m an insider, so I kind of knew what I had to do and what I did was before I got pre qualified, was paid off, paid off all my credit cards because I could, um, you know, just to make sure that when my credit was pulled, I had I had a score that was higher so that I could get the best rate in terms that are available. Um, so that that was that was that was a big That was a big thing that I that I did your credit score a big part of it is is factored by credit utilization. So a lot of times, people that are borderline approval if they can get, get added to a secure card or get added to, you know, another account, unauthorized user account or pay down credit cards, Um, you know, say from 70% to below 50% utilization than their score could shoot up. And we can, you know, we can qualify them for, for for what they really want to buy. So that that that that would say that would be the first step is always to just talk to different lenders and talk to different people. Don’t go toe one lender and just trust them and like I wouldn’t want any what, buddy? That I work with to just talk to me. I want them to do their own research. And I want them to know that I’m going to take care of them now If they find someone else that maybe is promising them better numbers or whatever. You know, we I hope that we can talk about that. But, you know, at the end of the day, we have toe, we have to perform and do what’s best for consumers. Yeah,
[00:03:27] Paul Sian: definitely looking at that. Going back to the the credit score. And you mentioned credit score affects your your interest rate. And you know what? Let’s do you have Ah, breakdown. Basically, you know what? What credit scores and how how much impact on your interest rate is? I mean, is it is something easy to quantify? Or is it a little more, you know, computer oriented than that or computer algorithm oriented than that?
[00:03:53] Walt Wollet: So this is another. This is another question. Where it gets into every bank is gonna be different on that account. Okay, so you have the agencies Fannie and Freddie, right? That that back these the back these loans and securitized these loans. And they said, Ah, lot of what the fees and charges are on on those you know on those products and and those were built in to the actual interest rate into the actual loan. In a lot of cases,
[00:04:21] Paul Sian: those almost like base fees,
[00:04:22] Walt Wollet: right? But then other people. So what a lot of banks will do and Chase Chase is an example is notorious for this, but so say they don’t want They don’t want a certain loan. They still legally have to offer it. But they’ll raise the interest rate on that product so that they don’t have to, you know, originate or services many of those loans. So, you know, truthfully, you know certain certain companies will do that with government loans if they don’t want, You know, they don’t want to deal with the potential risk of having the the agency’s forced them to buy back those loans if there’s any sort of auditing or documentation issues, so they just set their their margins, you know, like this that their rate really high, um, to try to dissuade people from applying and you’re seeing that a lot with refinances that some of the larger lenders now, too, Just for the same. The same exact reason.
[00:05:17] Paul Sian: So what do you tell us about some of the hiccups that you had happened to you in your specific alone while you were trying to buy a house?
[00:05:25] Walt Wollet: So I would say that I would say that any hiccups we had Mike, who helped helped who helped us out on this purchase, did a did a great job with, you know, a soon as stuff came out of underwriting. Soon as underwriting came back with a message, he would reach out to me and anything we needed, we would get. We did a good job together. Me being an insider, of documenting everything up front that we needed Thio. So any letters of explanation and any sort of thing like that, I’d say that the biggest hiccup was probably and especially right now with Kobe, it was the appraiser. So you way had required a desktop appraisal on this purchase, which is essentially a drive by appraisal. Now, typically, you know, in any other market, a normal market. I guess you might say you would have that appraiser reach out. They would be reaching out to the selling agent so the agent would know. Okay. The appraiser has seen the property. They’re out here
[00:06:25] Paul Sian: there physically walked in the property, right? And almost like a home inspection,
[00:06:28] Walt Wollet: right? And so that didn’t happen with this purchase, I guess. I think he pulled. He might have pulled into the back, you know, a little bit and checked out some of the buildings and took off, right. Um and then and then the appraisal came back. Luckily, was all good, but I think one of the hiccups was just that. That that cellar not knowing that the that the appraisal was done and that the seller’s agent not knowing. And that kind of elevated there, um, anxiety, right?
[00:06:55] Paul Sian: E, remember talking with the seller’s agent, basically, you know? Hey, when’s the appraisal happening? And, you know, I asked, I did ask the agent. You know, did they praise will call you and that kind of send up red flag on her part unintentionally because, you know, they won’t be contacting her. They would just be driving by, you know, looking at the back of building or looking, walking the building that really get, you know, looking to get inside the building.
[00:07:20] Walt Wollet: But as far as just just hiccups now and generally on in this market with loans is ah, big thing I talked to with my team and my manager all the time is just getting things in is clean and as clear as possible, you know? So what I think a lot of especially first time clients don’t understand is you cannot tell me that your student loan payment is this when really, it’s this and you cannot You cannot say that you make this much money when really you make this much money and every little detail of that application is gonna be verified and is gonna be put through extreme due diligence. So with that said, you know, like where when where we run into problems or where any lender will run into problems is when the story changes, you know? So it Z okay, we’re calculating, you know, 40 hours a week for your income, and then we get you know, the verification of employment back. And it’s it’s 32 you know, a week. Um, even though your recent pay stub stay safe 40 like, you know, those kind of issues I think everyone runs into and deals with, and it’s just like we have to have it perfect, you know? So if we’re talking about homeowners insurance numbers up front and this is what they are, and this is what you know, this is what they need to be. Then that’s what it is, you know. So we can’t I guess we can’t have, you know, radical changes in process or else you’re gonna have a loan that goes on forever and ever.
[00:08:45] Paul Sian: Yeah. So make sure you, you know, you’re dot your I’s cross your T’s and making sure the information is 100% correct. I mean, probably one of the best ways to do that is, you know, go on your own, pull your own credit report. Make sure you see all your accounts. Kinda like you had mentioned the beginning. Take a look at all your debts and and your assets as well. You know, make sure all your income is properly documented. Make sure all that’s documented. You know, the numbers that you’re reporting are what you’re being, what it is being reported to the lender that way. It you know, it’s smoother process underwriting is gonna have less less questions and you know you’re the one will go through easier,
[00:09:20] Walt Wollet: definitely. And one thing that I advise a lot of people to is I like to have, if possible, if time permits have that credit conversation with the clients up front. So even, you know, two weeks before they’re ready to shop, you know, even months before ideally, we talk about the credit and that there was a There was a case recently with a friend of mine, a client who’s a doctor, and he had mentioned, though I you know, I have this collection from this utility and I don’t know where it came from. And you know, there’s there’s laws that debt collectors and that people have to follow. And a lot of times you know what we’re seeing in the world, right is with with corruption and people not following rules and people not doing what they need to dio Ah, lot of times you as a consumer and you do you have rights to dispute that and toe thio and try to clean up that information yourself. The, uh, credit bureaus have legally every year have to send you a copy of your credit report if you request it so and I always advise people to do that, definitely
[00:10:21] Paul Sian: take a look at it. It mentioned fees earlier. We talked about a little bit about lenders fees and let’s talk a little bit more. I mean, what? We have your base fees that the the these other, like government sponsored entities, so to speak, the Fannie Mae Freddie Mac’s that they have charged. What sort of extra fees are you know, Banks, tacking on the loan and whatever. I guess what? Some of the reasons for these fees
[00:10:45] Walt Wollet: so every every loan requires people that work on it. So one thing is, is that I always say is you know, I would advise consumers toe, look at different lenders and talk to different people Now, I’ll tell you right now that cheaper is definitely definitely, definitely not always better. And a lot of times there are lenders out there that you know they’re overpriced and they’re at the top of the market and they know it, um, and so I guess there’s a There’s a huge discrepancy between fees in various programs and various lenders, and it’s just a matter of going and asking those questions. Okay? What is you know, why is the processing fee this why, you know, what’s this underwriting fee? And then it’s always okay to ask. Well, hey, is there anything we can we can do about this? So in my case, when it comes toe the fees or the stuff that I that I had to pay for it. So you know, certain things that the bank paid for because I’m an employee, which is a great benefit to us. Um, you know, help me, Help me, you know, save money. As I bought this place, one thing that a lot of buyers don’t think about is all those incidental fees. So every home inspection is 4 to $500. You know, every, um, you know, just just buying garbage cans out here was $150 you know? So there’s these. There’s these costs that come up, you know, the wax seal on the toilet stuff will come up, and you just have to make sure that you have that budget it in and that you’re prepared for those expenses. And so, like we you know, a lot of times if there’s multiple people living in a house and it’s it’s one person on the loan, you know, like that’s when I’ll look at it and be like Okay, well, you know, really, there’s three people that are gonna be living in this house. Three people sharing expenses. It’s different. Um, but those kind of loans are are always more difficult, you know? So you really want to make sure that, um, you understand all the costs involved, Especially if you’re especially if your debt to income ratio is higher as it is because you have a lot more expenses. So,
[00:12:54] Paul Sian: yeah, we’re talking about those fees. I mean, it’s almost example is some of the car dealers used car dealers or even new car dealers? I mean, you know, the you get through the negotiation process you got, you got the price on the car, and then you go talk to the finance finance manager quote unquote. And that’s where they you know, they start trying to tack in all these, you know? Hey, let me let me throw this warranty on you. Let me throw, you know, non, you know, payment protection in case you’re disabled. Campaign and So that’s where they start packing in things, packing their basically fees. You know, they’re fattening the bottom line of the car dealer, of course. And you know, that’s that’s part of their job. But you know, the same time to as consumers, our job is to look at that critically and say, You know, do I really need that? You know, Do I need a no payment fee? You know, because I’m disabled. I’m not currently working, but at the same time to, you know, turn around, look at your auto insurance or look at your homeowners insurance. Are they providing some similar coverage that you know that you would need or you know would would avoid? And least in that case, in the autos auto example, It’s not so clear cut. You always don’t have that type of thing. You know you’re homeowners insurance. Not necessary gonna cover you. You know, if you can’t, you can’t pay the mortgage, but there might be other, some other benefit or some other protection. You know, your employer might be offering something for you too, you know. Why pay the extra fee to the lender. You know, when it’s saving you money and they’re just trying to pad their bottom line versus, you know, you’re trying to save your dollar and you know, it’s a long term purchase you’re investing for, you know, 2030 years. Mawr costs them or the higher the interest rate. I mean, the more you’re paying overtime,
[00:14:35] Walt Wollet: and that’s why it’s so. It’s so important up front. You have, You have power is a consumer, you know, like and lenders, you know, if if any lender doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t wanna be competitive. That za red flag, probably. You know, so especially with with us in the bigger banks, you know, we we have you know, we did until, you know, kind of some of the, you know, the new fee with Fannie and Freddie for refinances, um, kind of cut into our margins a little bit. But, you know, we’re willing, toe, do you know we’re willing to do whatever we can do toe win business, you know? But at the same time, we have to pay people off a fair wage and we employ Americans, you know, So that Z you know, that can can be a difference, right? But it’s just a matter of like weighing, weighing out things. You know different. You know this. This lender might have the best deal, but they might take a really long time to get it done. You know this lender there there really fast, But they’re very expensive, you know? And what’s the What’s the trade off? And so you know, it’s always good toe talk to multiple people about that to gain a broader understanding for yourself.
[00:15:46] Paul Sian: How are they giving those fees? I mean, I’m presuming you need to get a credit report. Run right, Okay. And then how how big of an impact is that? You know, you’re getting multiple credit reports. Let’s say I talkto 34 lenders and I say, Okay, go ahead, run my credit if I, if I do it over the same day or a couple of months, is a big difference.
[00:16:05] Walt Wollet: So as as Faras a assed faras, a hit on the credit report. Yes, it’s it’s 30 days, so you’re allowed. What sends a red flag to the to the bureau’s is when you shop for a bunch of different things. So say that when I was buying this house, I also have my credit pulled for a car and I had my credit pull it for a tractor on and I did all this financing stuff. Well, my credit score, which just start to tank because it’s because the way the agencies that their algorithms or reading that is this person doesn’t have any cash right there. They’re financing everything you know. Here’s another credit card inquiry, so it’s all within that 30 day window. So you legally you get your credit pulled once with a lender, and then you have 30 days and you could have the credit polled, so long as it’s a mortgage inquiry and not any sort of general finance inquiry. And it’s how they’re coded to the to the actual credit providers, right? But so long as it’s a mortgage inquiry, it only it’s only gonna count is one hard inquiry. So you you’re you’re the credit agencies. They don’t wanna dissuade people from shopping for mortgages because we need to have a fair, you know, a fair and ethical mortgage market. Um, and it and it iss you know it. It’s definitely better than at what I’ve heard about, you know, from from some of the people I work with in before 2000 and eight. Right? But, um,
[00:17:30] Paul Sian: but comparison comparison shopping is, uh, could be a big saver. I mean, you know, thousands upon thousands over the life of the loan. Definitely going back. Now, we’re going back to your own personal experience looking. You know, hindsight is 2020 looking back at the whole process. Is there something you think you could have done better? That you know, would be good advice for somebody else?
[00:17:51] Walt Wollet: Yeah, I think I am. I think I probably I probably should have paid off all my all my dead sooner, you know? So that was that was one thing is I really, um
[00:18:05] Paul Sian: when you say sooner, how much sooner? And say prior to applying the loan. How much quicker should you have done
[00:18:12] Walt Wollet: that? So just as an example, I had There’s a company. There’s a rental verification company, and I pay them a fee toe, add toe, add my rental trade lines to my credit report, and those were not added before my credit report was pulled. So just like things like that that I had done to strengthen my credit profile in my score, they weren’t reported, right. And then I paid off all my cards, like I said, but some of them were still reporting balances when we pulled s. So it was kind of like take
[00:18:45] Paul Sian: 30 to 60 days for some companies report.
[00:18:47] Walt Wollet: Exactly. And so And here’s what I found out is that you most companies will offer what’s called off cycle reporting so you can call them like, Hey, I’m you know, I’m gonna get my credit pulled for, you know, this investment property loan. And I just paid off this credit card. I’d like it to report. And so some of them were honest with me, and they’re like, Oh, well, yeah, we can report And they did, and others said they did, but they didn’t. And it’s just the nature of, you know, the nature of it. So I would I would say a lot of that stuff. I would I would just, you know, I would just get it done as soon as possible. If you know, you know, if you know that, that’s gonna happen. Like I had my I had my credit pull twice for this home purchase. Um, because the original credit report expired right. Um, and I did that in February, you know? So I knew in February like, Okay, that’s what my actual score is. And then I use that credit report to attack the, you know, some of the balances and anything. Any other derogatory is that we’re keeping my score lower than where where I wanted it to be. Okay, so
[00:19:50] Paul Sian: all great advice and all great conversation. So I appreciate you taking the time to be on this podcast with me. Any final thoughts?
[00:19:59] Walt Wollet: Um, I, uh I just I just say everyone stay safe out there. And, um, you know, it’s just like with with what we’re talking about with with lenders, you know, and with getting different opinions and different perspectives in the world right now, that is what I would advise everyone to dio, you know, So, ah, lot of people there usedto watching CNN. They’re used to watching Fox News. They get their perspectives in their opinions, you know, from this one place. And I think that, you know, especially right now, is as you know, things were kind of, you know, getting getting a little crazy
[00:20:38] Paul Sian: up in the air,
[00:20:39] Walt Wollet: right? We need we need to All kind of, like, you know, realize that that everyone’s a person and that, you know, people are people and that we just way have to We have to do a better job working together. We have to hold our leaders accountable in this country.
[00:20:55] Paul Sian: We’re in this together basically,
[00:20:56] Walt Wollet: right, you know, And then and then that’s that’s all I That’s that’s all I would say to people is just and especially if you’re working with mortgage lenders right now, we’re all you know. We’re all stressed out and we’re swamped. And, you know, your I promise you you’re not the only client you know. So it’s like, you know, just just be patient with people. Um, you know, there’s a lot of people that that, you know, behind the scenes that work on these loans and your your loan originator eyes going to do their best for you. But a lot of times things, things happen. Unfortunately, and you know, you just need to take it as a learning experience and move forward. And I think that’s what our country needs to do with, uh, a lot of this craziness right now
[00:21:38] Paul Sian: wholeheartedly agree in the awesome advice. Thanks again for being on
[00:21:42] Walt Wollet: awesome. Thank you, Paul.
 

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Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze

The holiday parties may be over but the financial hangover is just setting in. Holiday sales for 2016 were estimated to top $655 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you blew your holiday budget, don’t panic. A January … Continue reading →

The post Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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3 Things Rideshare and Delivery Drivers Should Know About Car Insurance

Food delivery and ridesharing are great ways to earn extra income. The market for food delivery has increased as restaurants have had to adapt to COVID-19 precautions, and just about everyone could use some extra income as we continue to navigate life during a pandemic. If you’re considering joining a food delivery or rideshare company as a… Read More

The post 3 Things Rideshare and Delivery Drivers Should Know About Car Insurance appeared first on Credit.com.

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16 Ideas That Will Teach You How To Find Time To Make Extra Money

Would you like to learn how to find time to make extra money? Do you work a full-time job and feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to make more money? For several years, I worked full-time and found different ways to make extra money, such as starting and building my blog Making […]

The post 16 Ideas That Will Teach You How To Find Time To Make Extra Money appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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13 Tips on How to Save Money on Groceries Before You Shop

Get the inside scoop from a grocery store veteran on how to save money on groceries before even stepping foot in a store! Everyone always wants to inside scoop, no matter what you’re talking about! Because let’s face it, us moms need all the tips, hacks, and genius ideas we can get! Doing things the […]

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Saving for Maternity Leave: How to Financially Prepare Your Family

The time off work spent with a newborn is one of the most memorable times in a parent’s life. Like any other major life event, financial planning is crucial to make the experience as stress-free as possible. Saving for maternity…

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Five Smart and Easy Ways to Save Your Family Money

Setting financial goals for your family can be exciting and overwhelming. It’s empowering to work towards saving for your family’s dream vacation or eliminating debt such as a car payment, but when your family budget is already tight, finding ways to improve your finances can seem daunting.

Good news! There are everyday ways that you can implement into your family’s lifestyle that can help you save money. Here are a few easy strategies that will prove fruitful for both your home and your bank account.

1. Clean out your fridge and freezer each week

Before you roll your eyes at this suggestion, let me explain. Research shows that people in US households toss out a staggering 150,000 tons of food each day! The average American family of four spending $ $10,995 per year on food. A considerable amount of waste could be prevented if we commited to monitoring foods like produce, dairy, and meat and using them before they go bad.

Schedule a day once a week (the day before or day you plan to grocery shop is ideal) and take inventory of what groceries you still have available to prepare family meals. This allows you to take advantage of a slightly bruised zucchini and end-of-package cheese slices that you can turn into a delicious quiche for dinner rather than spending a small chunk-of-change on takeout pizza. Don’t forget the freezer. Those frozen drumsticks can be thawed and marinated for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner along with that bag of red bliss potatoes that have been sitting on your counter for weeks now.

A considerable amount of waste could be prevented if we commited to monitoring foods and using them before they go bad.

Make this a weekly habit and not only will you be able to serve your family tasty dishes, you can put the money you save toward something meaningful for your family.

2. Review your family’s monthly subscriptions

It’s the little things in life that can truly make a difference! That goes for those small, innocent payments you make each month for our family’s entertainment—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, gym memberships, music streaming services, Dollar Shave Club, and so many more.

List all your family’s subscriptions and see what your monthly total is. Decide which ones really make a difference for your family and then look at trimming the rest. You might be surprised to find out how much money you're spending on subscriptions you rarely (if ever) use!

3. Commit to decluttering your surroundings

A home filled with paper piled on countertops, loose laundry, a gaggle of knickknacks and tchotchkes, and drawers stuffed with gadgets and items that have no real purpose can be one of the biggest money drains of all. 

When your living space is organized and functional, it sets the tone for everything else in your family’s life.

Look around your entryway, kitchen, family room, and even your garage. Are things neat and orderly, or do you have to dig every time you need to find your tennis shoes, the dog’s leash, and your car keys?

Clutter robs you of:

  • Time. How much time do you waste constantly searching for everyday items?
  • Space. Clutter can hog valuable counter and drawer space that should belong to items you use all the time. (What happens when you can't find your car keys or—say it ain't so!—reach the coffeepot?)
  • Money. Just when you give up and buy a new duster, that's when the old one shows up. Am I right? And if you misplace your bills, that could result in late fees.
  • Peace of mind. When your family lives amid chaos, you're constantly stressed about finding items, or you feel guilty that your home isn't in better order. 

When your living space is organized and functional, it sets the tone for everything else in your family’s life. This doesn’t have to be an awful project. Get excited about how amazing you and your family will feel when everything has a place. When you eliminate the mess throughout your entire home (garage and shed included!), you’ll have a new lease on life. Disposing if things you bought and rarely used will also may you more mindful of what you purchase in the future.

There are dozens of recommended decluttering methods available, but my favorite is inspired by organizing guru, Marie Kondo. The way she goes about getting her clients organized involves a multi-step process that involves sorting by item category rather than by room. The KonMari method mandates that you only keep the items that bring you joy. (But remember, throwing out your bills because they don't bring you joy is a bad idea.)

RELATED: Clean, Organize, and Declutter with Marie Kondo's Magic: Part 1

4. Buy secondhand

A savvy way to save serious money is to shop secondhand stores. Not only can you find designerclothing at half the price of the original sales tag, you can score amazing finds for your home. There needn’t be a stigma about shopping thrift stores. Many have a boutique-like feel with knowledgeable, professional sales staff who are eager to help you and your home look better for less. In addition, you’re helping the environment by recycling!

Shopping secondhand is one of 2020’s hot parenting trends. Besides local thrift shops and consignment stores, there are plenty of opportunities to shop online. E-Bay, Swap.com, and ThredUp, and Facebook are a few of many online choices that offer a variety of top-notch styles for less.

5. Create an energy-smart home

Be mindful of turning the lights off when you leave a room or keeping your thermostat set at 68 degrees during the winter. To some, those types of things are already habit. But for many others, conserving energy isn't necessarily top-of-mind. The average electricity spent in a household per year is $1,368.36 and studies show that 35 percent of the power used is actually wasted.

Fortunately, this waste can be corrected. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical household can save 25 percent on utility bills by implementing energy-efficient measures. (Put that towards your family’s vacay!) These tips include replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives and properly insulating your home.

You can perform a do-it-yourself energy audit, and many local energy companies will also assist with a professional energy audit. Moneycrashers also offers some helpful tips in 10 Ways for How to Save Energy at Home Now – Save $2,500 Per Year.

With a money-saving mindset you’ll soon find other creative ways you can spend less and save more resulting in valuable time with your loved ones.

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6 Tips to Find Affordable Health Insurance When You Become Self-Employed

If you're dreaming about leaving a corporate job to work for yourself, getting affordable health insurance is probably one of your top concerns. Fortunately, there are more protections now than ever for those who leave the safety of a group health plan.

This post will cover six tips to find affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or leave a job for any reason, so you and your family get the coverage you need.

Major benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, became law in 2010, with significant provisions taking effect in 2014. One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition. However, insurers can charge different rates based on where you live, your age, tobacco use, and family size.

One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition.

The ACA also removes annual and lifetime caps on your health coverage. And no matter how much care you receive, the law caps how much you have to pay for it.

Out-of-pocket annual maximums vary depending on your health plan, but if you get in-network care, you'll never have to pay more than $8,150 as an individual, or $16,300 as a family, for the 2020 plan year. For 2021, these amounts increase to $8,550 and $17,100. Note that these limits don't include your monthly premiums.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Subsidy?

The ACA also offers many low- and middle-income Americans a health subsidy, which cuts the cost of premiums depending on your income and family size. It's a tax credit paid to your health insurance provider every month, which allows you to pay a lower premium.

For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy.

The ACA subsidy applies when your household income is between 100% and 400% of your state's federal poverty level. For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy. 

One challenge to using a subsidy is that it's based on your estimated earnings in the year when you'll get coverage, not on your last year's income. Since self-employment incomes can vary dramatically from month to month, the chances of knowing exactly how much you'll earn in the current or future year may be difficult. 

If you underestimate your income for a health subsidy, you may have to return a portion of the tax credit already spent on your insurance during the previous year. In other words, you may owe additional taxes that you weren't expecting.

When you enroll in an ACA plan, you'll have access to a marketplace account. That's where you can update changes to your expected income or family size that affect your tax credit so you can correct it as quickly as possible.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Mandate?

The ACA mandated that individuals be covered by a qualified health plan or pay a tax penalty if you're uninsured for more than two consecutive months. The mandate applies no matter if you're employed, self-employed, unemployed, a child, an adult, or where you live. 

Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it.

However, starting in 2019, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the mandate penalty for not having health insurance no longer applies. Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it. 

But several states have their own insurance mandates, requiring you to have a qualifying health plan. You may have to pay the penalty for being uninsured if you live in:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

For example, California residents without ACA coverage in 2020 face a penalty up to 2.5% of household income, or $696 per adult, and $375.50 per child, whichever is greater. So, even if the federal government won't penalize you for being uninsured, you could have to pay a hefty state penalty, depending on where you live. More states will likely adopt penalties to keep the cost of coverage for residents as low as possible.

The ACA established health insurance exchanges, primarily as online marketplaces, administered by either federal or state governments. That's where individuals, the self-employed, and small businesses can shop and purchase qualified insurance plans and find other options, depending on your income.

How to get affordable health insurance

When you go out on your own, the cost of a health plan can be shocking—especially if you just left a company that paid a big chunk of the insurance bill on your behalf.

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative. Having a medical emergency or being diagnosed with a severe illness that you can't afford to treat could be devastating. 

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative.

Here are six tips for finding affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or no longer have job-based coverage for any reason:

1. Join a spouse or partner's plan

If your spouse or partner has employer-sponsored health insurance, joining their plan could be your most affordable option. Group insurance generally costs much less than individual coverage. Plus, some employers subsidize a portion of your premium as a benefit. 

However, some employer plans may not offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. So, find out from the benefits administrator what's allowed. 

If you're under age 26, another option is to join or remain on a parent's health plan if they're willing to have you. Even if you're married, not living with your parents, and not financially dependent on them, the ACA allows you to get health insurance using a parent's plan. However, once you're over age 26, you'll have to use another option covered here.

2. Enroll in a federal or state marketplace plan

As I mentioned, the ACA established federal and state marketplaces for consumers who don't have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. The following states have health insurance exchanges:

  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut 
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho 
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

No matter where you live, you can begin shopping for an ACA-qualified health plan at healthcare.gov. However, you can only apply for a policy during the annual open enrollment period—November 1 to December 15, for coverage that will begin on January 1 of the following year. Some states with healthcare exchanges have an extended enrollment period

In general, if you miss the enrollment window, you can't get an ACA health plan until the following year unless you qualify for a special enrollment. That allows you to purchase or change coverage any time of the year if you have a major qualifying life event, such as losing insurance at work, getting married or divorced, having a child, or relocating. However, you typically only have 60 days after the event occurs to enroll.

If your income is too high to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, you can still buy health insurance through the federal or your state's exchange. You can also get an ACA-qualified health plan directly from an insurance company, a health insurance agent or broker, or an online insurance aggregator.

3. Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

One way to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums is to choose a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). You enjoy lower monthly premiums but have higher out-of-pocket costs. If you're in relatively good health, an HDHP can make sense; however, if you get sick, it can end up costing you more. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

Another benefit of having an HDHP is that you qualify for a health savings account (HSA). Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be withdrawn at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor co-pays, prescription drugs, dental care, chiropractic, prescription eyeglasses, and mental health care. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

4. Get a short-term plan

If you miss the deadline to enroll in an ACA health plan and don't qualify for special enrollment, are you simply out of luck? Fortunately, no. You can purchase a short-term health plan until the next enrollment period comes around.

The problem is, short-term plans don't have to meet ACA standards and only offer temporary coverage, such as for a few months or up to a year. You may be eligible to renew a plan for up to three years in some states, depending on the insurer. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan.

Short-term plans can charge more if you have preexisting conditions, put caps on benefits, or not cover essential services like prescriptions and preventive care. Because they fall short of ACA requirements, you can have one and still be subject to a state-mandated health penalty. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan. 

Having short-term coverage is certainly better than being uninsured, but I recommend replacing it with qualified health coverage as soon as possible. That's the best way to have the protection you need against the enormous financial risk of medical costs. 

5. Enroll in Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

If you can't afford health insurance, you may be eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or CHIP at any time of year, depending on your income, family size, and the state where you live. In general, if you earn less than the poverty level, which is currently $12,760 for an individual or $26,200 for a family of four, you may qualify for these programs. They may have different names depending on where you live. 

Unlike ACA health plans, state-run health programs don't have set open enrollment periods, so if you qualify, coverage can begin any time of year. 

When you complete an application at the federal or state health insurance exchange, you can also determine if you qualify for coverage through Medicaid and CHIP programs. You can learn more about both programs at medicaid.gov

6. Get COBRA coverage

If you leave a job with group health insurance, you can enroll in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage. It isn't an insurance company or a health plan, but a regulation that gives you the option to continue your employer-sponsored health insurance after you're no longer employed. 

Instead of having your plan canceled the month you leave a job, you can use COBRA to continue getting the same benefits and choices you had before you left the company. In most cases, you can get COBRA benefits for up to 18 months.

The problem with COBRA coverage is that it's temporary and can be expensive. Unlike other federal benefits, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers don't have to pay for COBRA. You typically have to pay the full cost of premiums, plus a 2 percent administrative charge, to the insurer. 

If you're not eligible for regular, federal COBRA, many states offer similar programs, called Mini COBRA. To learn more, check with your state's department of insurance.

Health insurance shopping tips

After you become self-employed and purchase health insurance, it's crucial to shop for plans every open enrollment period. Your or your family's medical needs or income may change.

Additionally, new health insurers come in and go out of the health insurance marketplace. Carriers that offered plans in your ZIP code last year may not be the same set of players this year. In other words, a competitor could offer a similar or better plan than yours, for a lower price. So, if you don't shop annually, you could leave money on the table.

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How To Meal Prep On A Budget: 10 Great Recipes To Try

Would you like to learn how to meal prep on a budget? Planning healthy and satisfying meals week after week can get exhausting. Having a family, a full-time job, a side hustle, etc. makes it even more challenging to cook during the week. I know I have fallen into that rut before, and many times […]

The post How To Meal Prep On A Budget: 10 Great Recipes To Try appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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7 Ways to Make Frugality a Joyful Choice, Not a Burden

Frugality is quite popular these days, but it’s hardly a novel concept. Frugality kept many families going during wartime and the Great Depression, and it has the power to improve our homes and lives today.

While circumstances can force us into frugality, and that’s not much fun, you can also enjoy life while being frugal. Here are some great ways to make a thrifty lifestyle a joyful choice and not a burden.

First, clarify your why

Why do you want to be a frugal person? What benefits will a frugal lifestyle bring that you can’t find any other way? To make your frugality a joyful choice, you need to have a solid reason for it.

Most of us don’t live frugally for the sheer fun of it—at least not at first. You probably have a reason to be frugal. Perhaps you’re saving for a downpayment on a home, paying off student loan debt, or reducing your budget to enjoy greater career freedom.

You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Clarify why you're planning to be more frugal. (You might have several reasons). Every time you struggle with forgoing a purchase to save money, remind yourself of the purpose behind it. You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Your reasons are likely things that will add to your happiness one day. Buying a home, becoming debt-free, or cutting back on work hours may significantly improve your life, so those goals are worth the effort to be frugal.

7 strategies to make frugal living more enjoyable

1. Try a frugality challenge

Join a no-spend challenge where you only spend money on essentials for a month to see how much money you might save. This kind of thing isn’t meant to be a long-term change in habits, although some people might continue after the challenge is over.

The point of a frugality challenge or no-spend month (or year) is to reset your baseline. Change the default of how much money you spend each month. You may struggle at first, but it gets easier the longer you avoid spending.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels. Take some time to evaluate how you felt, what triggers tempted you, and what things you discovered you don’t really need or want anymore.

It’s OK if you start spending a bit more again, but be mindful about what you purchase. It’s like the Konmari method of decluttering your house, except with your finances: Let go of what is no longer serving you, and joyfully spend on the things that matter.

2. Focus on gratitude

Gratitude can make you a happier person. When you think about what you’re grateful for, it’s pretty hard to dwell on what you don’t have. Research has shown people who regularly express gratitude often feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, and improve their health.

It’s much easier to save your money when you focus on your blessings. Writing a list of things you’re grateful for daily can help you feel more content and less likely to crave the temporary high of buying something new.

You can still have so much without spending a lot.

Frugality doesn’t take away things you enjoy. Yes, it often means shopping around to get a lower price or doing without something you didn’t need. But you can still have so much without spending a lot.

Examples of things that might be on your gratitude list:

  • Running water
  • Internet service
  • Virtual connectivity to friends and family across the globe
  • Food and drink
  • Modern conveniences (electricity, dishwashers, lawnmowers, etc.)
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Nature

3. Notice the benefits of frugality

The longer you follow a frugal lifestyle, the more benefits you’ll observe. As you forgo spending on things that perhaps were luxuries, pay attention to the benefits you experience, whether expected or unexpected. Some of the common benefits you might see include:

  • Feelings of joy for the small things
  • Preferring homemade meals to dining out
  • Appreciation for what you have
  • No more temptation to buy to impress people
  • Learning a new skill
  • Adopting other, healthier habits

The more you appreciate the benefits of your frugality, the easier it will become to keep following frugal principles.

4. Make bargain-hunting a game

When you need or want something, look for low- or no-cost ways to get it. Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, local garage sales, or thrift stores may have the item you’re seeking for much less (or even free).

Frugality often means spending a little more time researching the item you need before rushing out and buying it. But you usually don’t need something instantly and can afford to wait a few days, weeks, or months. That time can save you a great deal of money. Plus, you get to enjoy the satisfaction of snagging a great deal.

5. Enjoy learning to DIY

If you’re just starting with frugal living, you may find yourself trying to fix something you usually would have replaced. Do-it-yourself tasks are an opportunity to learn.

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase.

When you choose to repair or reuse something rather than replacing it with a new one, think about how cool it is to learn something new. My husband loves YouTube for teaching him a ton of valuable skills, such as how to replace car brakes. Yes, this takes more of his time in a hands-on way, but he enjoys the challenge, saves money, and guess what? Now he knows how to do the same job in the future, saving us money for years to come.6. Make frugality your identity, not a phase

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase. Habits expert James Clear writes about this in his bestselling book Atomic Habits: “To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.”

For instance, rather than stating your goal as “I want to save $200 this month,” try identifying yourself as someone who is joyfully frugal. Reframing your identity by saying, “I’m a frugal person” can be more effective than thinking, “I can’t wait until I can start spending money again.” All those little spending decisions are more manageable when you view everything as a means of honoring your values rather than temporarily denying yourself something.

7. Cultivate an abundance mindset

Consider how you talk about money in your day-to-day life. Try to pay attention to what you think and say about money throughout a typical week.

You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

If you often say things like “I can’t afford that,” you’re negatively framing your frugality. But if you say something like “I choose not to spend money on that,” you put the power in your hands. You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

There’s a subtle yet essential difference in these perspectives. If you have a scarcity mindset where you don’t have enough and you always want more, it won’t get you anywhere. But if you cultivate an abundance mindset, you’ll see opportunities for the future and believe in your ability to realize those opportunities.

Frugality is fun … for real!

Honestly, frugality is a fantastic lifestyle that brings me endless joy every day. It’s exciting to look for ways to save money without sacrificing any of the things you love to do. I hope you’ll start finding the joy in frugality too.